Orangethorpe Learning Center

The purpose of the Learning Center is to provide the children of our community a safe and nurturing Christian environment for them to complete homework assignments. Through this Learning Center, children will be able to complete schoolwork, enrich their studies with resources, and enhance English skills. It is the goal that each child will become a better and more productive citizen. — OLC Mission Statement

We asked one of the people who founded OLC to give us her memories of how and why OLC got its start. Martha's article appeared in the 10th anniversary edition of the Learning Center's newsletter, Fun Times. You may read more about Orangethorpe Learning Center at its web site — olckids.92833.org.

OLC's Beginnings

By Martha Hyde

In the early 1990s, the people who made up Orangethorpe United Methodist Church's Local Organizing Committee were very concerned about a number of problems in our neighborhood, such as gang activities, vandalism of private and public property, Gilbert Park not safe for children to use, and apartments run down, needing repair, and sometimes occupied by gangs

Several of us started attending meetings of the Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO), learning about community outreach. We heard about projects which other churches had carried out in their own neighborhoods. We walked our neighborhood, knocking on each door, and asked people what they needed. We invited neighbors to OUMC to continue this dialogue about needs and problems in more depth and to explore possible solutions.


Why a Learning Center?

Our neighbors said their children needed help with homework. Many of the parents in our neighborhood didn't speak enough English to help their children, or worked long hours and couldn't spend enough time at home with them. The parents to whom we spoke all cared deeply about their children's education, but some were unable to provide them the help they needed to achieve at grade level. Some of these parents and children were already well known to us through our contacts with them at Hot Meal Ministry at Orangethorpe Christian Church.

We decided this was an issue we could do something about immediately, and that an after-school homework center would address the problem. Children in Grades K through 6 could receive help after school, not only with their assigned homework, but also in such broad areas of education as English language proficiency, math skills, use of reference books and computer literacy.

We undertook even more research, visiting similar programs in Costa Mesa and La Habra and meeting with representatives of the city and the school district to hear their assessment of the situation. Concerned members of Orangethorpe Christian Church and Cornerstone United Methodist Church also became involved in the planning.


Center Opens on Valentine's Day

February 14, 1995, was opening day in the Fellowship Hall at OUMC. We decorated the Patio Lounge with balloons and streamers and bought some punch and cookies. Nine of us volunteer tutors were ready for the many students who needed our help. But only two children came.

We weren't discouraged though. The next day seven kids showed up and, within two weeks, an average of 25 students were coming in each day. It is open Mondays through Thursdays from 2:45 to 4:30 pm during the school year, except on days when Fullerton city schools are closed.

Faye
Faye Perkins helps first-year attendees at Orangethorpe Learning Center.

At First, NO Money

William

When we opened Orangethorpe Learning Center, we did it on faith that we would be able to meet the needs of the families of our neighborhood. We didn't have a penny for supplies and no personnel except volunteers. We didn't even have a name for it until a few days before it opened. We raised some money by grants and donations from neighborhood businesses to buy supplies and were able to hire one of OLC's founders, Norm Todd, as director. We developed contacts at local high schools and colleges to obtain student volunteers.

With the help of many friends, we've seen students take more interest in their schoolwork, improve their English, get better grades, and even make the Honor Rolls at their schools. Parents who send their children to us have given us very positive feedback.

Our admission policy is summed up by Jesus' command to let the children come to me, and do not hinder them. No child who is willing to study and learn is ever turned away by Orangethorpe Learning Center. We help all children in grades K-6 who come to us, regardless of their families' race, religion, cultural background or financial situation. Our services are always completely free.

Attendance growth occurred when teachers at nearby Orangethorpe School heard about our ministry and started recommending OLC to children who needed a little extra help with their lessons. Attendance has fluctuated over the years but now averages about forty students per day.


Friends of OLC

We have received generous donations from Church members and grants from Hunt-Wesson Foods, St. Jude Medical Center, Griswold Industries, and from a variety of other sources, including the United Methodist, Christian (Disciples of Christ), Presbyterian and Catholic churches.

We were awarded a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) by the City of Fullerton for the 2003-2004 school year which was renewed for 2004-2005 and 2005-2006.

This financial support made it possible for us to hire a part-time director and two assistants to oversee OLC's daily operation.

The need for paid personnel to insure consistency and continuity in our day-to-day operations became apparent very early in OLC's development.

As important as this financial support might be, OLC wouldn't be possible without the enthusiastic participation of volunteers of all ages. These volunteers have included members of our churches, the children's parents and family members, and students from nearby high schools and Fullerton College.


Ten years later

As time went by, we strove to involve our students' parents more in the management of OLC and in our fund raising. One of the parents who brought her child the week we opened, Margareta Iancului, is still active as a board member. She and other OLC moms work hard in the kitchen each Christmas season to make tamales to sell to our congregations.

Her daughter, Kristina, is an honor student at Fullerton High and is also a volunteer. Another of our "first moms," Bertilia Solares, was an active leader until moving out of the area a year ago. Her sons, Willie and Jesse, are achieving 3.5 GPAs at Rialto High School.


We're All Learning

We learned as we went along. It hasn't been perfect and we are still learning, but we have been very proud of our students' progress in academic improvement and proud of our parents that have stepped up to volunteer daily and to raise funds for our center. We're very proud of our students' progress and of the family members and church members who have put in many hours of volunteer efforts.

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